Clinical Trials

The Importance of Informed Consent in Clinical Trials

Informed consent, as defined by ICH GCP guidelines, refers to the process of providing potential participants with adequate information to make an informed decision about participating in a clinical investigation.

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Dr. Peace Chikezie

Published 27 Jun 2023

The Importance of Informed Consent in Clinical Trials - Infiuss Health


Informed consent is a critical aspect of conducting clinical trials. It ensures the protection of the rights and well-being of research subjects. 


Interestingly, informed consent goes beyond just obtaining a participant's signature on a consent form; instead, it involves providing detailed information, simplifying understanding, allowing ample time for discussion and questions, and obtaining voluntary agreement. 


In this blog post, we will delve into the concept of informed consent according to ICH GCP (International Council for Harmonisation of Technical Requirements for Pharmaceuticals for Human Use), explore the steps involved, and emphasize its importance in clinical research.


What is Informed Consent according to ICH GCP?


Informed consent, as defined by ICH GCP guidelines, refers to the process of providing potential participants with adequate information to make an informed decision about participating in a clinical investigation. 


The 5 key elements of informed consent include:


  1. Adequate Information: Participants should receive detailed information about the clinical trial, its purpose, procedures, risks, benefits, and any available alternative treatments.


  1. Encouraging Understanding: It is essential to ensure that participants understand the provided information. Researchers should use clear and simple language. They should also address any questions or concerns the participants may have.


  1. Time for Consideration: Participants should be given enough time to think about the information, discuss it with their family and friends, and make an independent decision about whether or not to participate.


  1. Voluntary Agreement: Informed consent requires participants to voluntarily agree to participate without pressure or undue influence. Participants have the right to decline or withdraw from the study at any time without losing any entitled benefits.


  1. Ongoing Information: Throughout the clinical investigation, researchers should continue providing relevant information as the study progresses or if circumstances change.


Why is Informed Consent Important?


There are several reasons why informed consent is necessary for clinical trials.


Here are at least 5 reasons:


  1. Protecting Participant Rights: Informed consent ensures that participants fully understand the nature of their involvement, potential risks, and benefits.


  1. Ethical Conduct: Obtaining informed consent aligns with ethical principles by promoting transparency, honesty, and respect for participants' decisions. It ensures that the welfare of the participants is prioritized over societal interests.


  1. Decision-Making Empowerment: Informed consent allows individuals to be involved in their own healthcare decisions. By providing them with full information about the trial, participants can make informed choices that align with their values and preferences.


  1. Risk and Benefit Assessment: Informed consent allows participants to weigh the potential risks and benefits of participating in a clinical trial. It helps them assess whether the research aligns with their circumstances and expectations.


  1. Legal Compliance: Regulatory bodies, such as the FDA, require researchers to obtain informed consent to ensure compliance with ethical and legal standards. Non-compliance can lead to serious consequences, including invalidation of the study results or legal ramifications.


What are the Steps in the Informed Consent Process?


The informed consent process involves these 9 steps:


  1. Explanation of Study: Participants that meet the eligibility criteria are informed that the clinical trial involves research. They are provided with a clear description of the study's purpose, procedures, expected duration, and experimental interventions like drugs, devices, etc.


  1. Risks and Benefits: Researchers outline any potential risks, discomforts, or side effects associated with the study. They also explain any expected benefits or advancements in medical knowledge that may arise from the research.


  1. Alternative Treatments: Participants are informed about alternative treatment options available, if any, and the potential benefits or risks associated with those alternatives.


  1. Confidentiality and Privacy: Researchers explain how they will protect the confidentiality of participant information and how the collected data will be used. They may also inform participants about the possibility of regulatory inspections.


  1. Compensation and Medical Treatments: If the study involves compensation or medical treatments, researchers should clearly explain the details, including the extent of compensation, reimbursement for expenses like transportation, and the availability of medical treatments outside of the study.


  1. Voluntary Participation: Participants are informed that their participation is entirely voluntary and that they have the right to decline or withdraw from the study at any time without penalty or loss of benefits to which they are entitled.


  1. Understanding and Questions: Researchers should ensure that participants have understood the provided information by asking them questions and encouraging them to seek clarification. This step promotes an open and honest dialogue to address any concerns or uncertainties.


  1. Documentation: Once the participant has understood the study and its implications, they are asked to sign a written consent form. This document confirms their voluntary agreement to participate and serves as a record of the informed consent process.


  1. Ongoing Communication: Throughout the study, researchers should maintain open lines of communication with participants. They should provide updates on the progress of the research, address any emerging issues, and promptly inform participants of any relevant changes to the study protocol or potential risks.


How can Informed Consent Practices be Ensured in Clinical Trials?


To ensure that the informed consent process is effective throughout the clinical trials, the following 6 practices should be adhered to:


  1. Simplified and Clear Language: Researchers should avoid using technical jargon and complex terminology. Instead, they should communicate in a language that participants can easily understand, ensuring that all information is conveyed accurately.


  1. Tailored Information: Individuals should be provided with information tailored to their educational background, cultural context, and personal needs. This approach acknowledges the diversity among participants and enhances their comparedanding of the study.


  1. Supportive Environment: The informed consent process should take place in a comfortable and private setting, allowing participants to ask questions freely and express any concerns. Researchers should ensure a supportive atmosphere that allows for open dialogue.


  1. Informed Consent Forms: The written consent form should be written in clear and concise language. It should include all relevant information about the study, risks, benefits, confidentiality, compensation, and contact details of the research team. The form should be easily readable and accessible to participants.


  1. Researcher Training: Researchers should receive adequate training on GCP principles and procedures of obtaining informed consent. Training should cover effective communication techniques, understanding cultural sensitivities, and addressing potential challenges during the consent process.


  1. Ongoing Monitoring: Regulatory bodies and ethics committees should conduct regular monitoring and audits to ensure compliance with informed consent requirements. This oversight helps maintain the integrity of the research process and protects the rights and well-being of participants.


FAQ Section


Q: What are the 8 elements of informed consent?

A: The 8 elements of informed consent include:


1. Disclosure: Providing clear and comprehensive information about the study, its purpose, procedures, risks, benefits, and alternatives.


2. Understanding: Ensuring that participants comprehend the information provided and have the opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification.


3. Competence: Ensuring that participants can understand the information and make informed decisions. This involves assessing their cognitive ability and providing support if needed.


4. Voluntariness: Ensuring that participation is entirely voluntary, without any coercion or undue influence.


5. Consent: Obtaining the participant's explicit agreement to participate in the study.


6. Capacity to Consent: Ensuring that the individual has the legal authority and capacity to provide consent. In certain cases, a legal guardian or representative may give consent on behalf of someone who lacks capacity.


7. Information Retention: Ensuring that participants have a reasonable opportunity to retain and process the information provided before making a decision.


8. Decision-Making: Allowing participants sufficient time to consider the information and make a decision without any external pressure.


Q: What is informed consent in a clinical trial MCQ?

A: In a multiple-choice question (MCQ) format, informed consent in a clinical trial refers to the process where participants are provided with information about the trial, its risks and benefits, and alternative treatments. They are then required to choose the correct option(s) that best align with the principles of informed consent.


Q: Who can take informed consent in a clinical trial?

A: Informed consent in a clinical trial is typically obtained by trained researchers or healthcare professionals involved in the study. These individuals have the knowledge and expertise to explain the study details, answer questions, and ensure that participants understand the implications of their involvement.


Q: Who can give informed consent?

A: Informed consent can be given by individuals who meet the legal requirements for decision-making capacity. This includes competent adult participants who can understand the information provided, appreciate the consequences of their decision, and make voluntary choices. In some cases, legal guardians or representatives may provide consent on behalf of individuals who lack decision-making capacity.


Q: What are the different types of consent?

A: There are various types of consent used in different contexts, including:


a.Informed Consent: Obtained when participants are fully informed about the study and voluntarily agree to participate.


b. Implied Consent: Implied through actions or behavior, usually in situations where the risks are minimal, and participation is routine or necessary for providing medical care. Like filling out a questionnaire or survey.


c. Explicit Consent: Obtained through a clear and specific statement or written agreement.


d. Proxy Consent: Given by a legal guardian or representative on behalf of someone who lacks decision-making capacity.


Q: What is the basic principle of consent?

A: The basic principle of consent is respecting an individual's autonomy and right to make decisions about their own body and participation in research or medical procedures. Informed consent ensures that individuals have the necessary information to make informed choices based on their values and preferences.


Q: What are the four pillars of informed consent?

A: The four pillars of informed consent include:


  1. Information: Providing relevant details about the study, including its purpose, procedures, risks, benefits, and alternatives.


  1. Voluntariness: Ensuring that participation is entirely voluntary, without coercion or undue influence.


  1. Comprehension: Ensuring that participants understand the information provided and have the opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification.


  1. Competence: Assessing and confirming that participants can understand the information and make informed decisions.


Q: How do you write consent in clinical trials?

A: Writing a consent form involves the following steps:


  1. Start with a clear and concise title: Begin the consent form with a title that indicates the purpose of the study or procedure.


  1. Provide an introduction: Begin the form with a brief introduction that explains the purpose of the study, the procedures involved, and the expected duration of participation.


  1. Present information clearly and understandably: Use simple language and avoid jargon to explain the study or procedure. Provide information about the risks, benefits, and alternatives involved, ensuring that it is comprehensive and easily comprehensible.


  1. Include a statement of voluntariness: Clearly state that participation is entirely voluntary, and emphasize that individuals have the right to withdraw from the study at any time without facing any negative consequences.


  1. Specify the procedures and timeline: Describe the specific procedures involved in the study or procedure, including any assessments, tests, or interventions. Outline the expected timeline, including the duration of participation and any follow-up visits.


  1. Address confidentiality and data handling: Explain how participant confidentiality will be maintained, including any data protection measures or anonymization techniques that will be employed.


  1. Describe compensation or reimbursement: If applicable, provide information about any compensation or reimbursement for participation, including details on how it will be provided.


  1. Include a statement on potential risks and benefits: Clearly outline the potential risks and benefits associated with participation in the study or procedure. Ensure that participants understand the likelihood and magnitude of each risk or benefit.


  1. State contact information for questions and concerns: Provide contact information for the study coordinator or principal investigator who can address any questions or concerns participants may have.


  1. Include a space for participant signature: Provide a section at the end of the consent form for participants to sign, indicating their voluntary agreement to participate.


  1. Obtain ethics committee approval: Before using the consent form, ensure that it has been reviewed and approved by the relevant ethics committee or institutional review board (IRB).


Remember, the specific content and format of the consent form may vary depending on the nature of the study or procedure, local regulations, and ethical guidelines. It is important to consult with experts in the field and adhere to applicable legal and ethical standards when writing consent forms.




Informed consent is an integral part of conducting ethical and responsible clinical trials. 


It empowers participants by providing them with comprehensive information, respecting their autonomy, and allowing them to make informed decisions about their involvement in research. 


Infiuss Health, a patient recruitment platform in Africa, strives to implement a comprehensive and culturally sensitive informed consent process. This ensures that individuals from diverse backgrounds and cultures have a clear understanding of the study or clinical trial before deciding to participate.


By ensuring that participants are well-informed and actively engaged, we can foster a culture of trust and transparency in clinical research, ultimately advancing medical knowledge and improving patient care.


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